Quick! Name the best-hitting outfielder in baseball. No, not Mike Trout. Not Carlos Gomez, nor Carlos Gonzalez. Here's a hint: he's 34 years old and plays in the National League. Carlos Beltran is 36, so it's not him.
Still stumped? It's Michael Cuddyer. Yes, the oft-forgotten about outfielder in Colorado, playing alongside Dexter Fowler and Gonzalez, has been putting up monster offensive numbers. He set a Rockies club record on Thursday with a hit -- one of three -- in his 24th consecutive game. [Editor's note: He extended the streak to 25 games on Friday night.]
On Wednesday, he surpassed Todd Helton and Andres Galarraga’s club record of 42 consecutive games reaching base. He has logged multiple hits in each of his last four games and is hitting .390/.421/.590 over the span of his hitting streak, and .351/.402/.597. Not bad for a guy who has never hit .300.
Overall, Cuddyer has a .424 weighted on-base average (wOBA), best among outfielders and fifth-best overall, behind Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Troy Tulowitzki and David Ortiz. Going by weighted runs created (wRC+) which adjusts for league and park factors and sets the average at 100, Cuddyer sits at 161, well above his career average of 112 and his previous career high of 124 set in 2009 with the Twins.
The big question is, "Is it sustainable?" Detractors will rightfully point out that Cuddyer plays half his games at Coors Field, the consensus hitter-friendliest ballpark in baseball. He has a 1.103 OPS at home, but his .913 road OPS is nothing to sneeze at, and he's hit six of his 13 home runs on the road as well.
Cuddyer missed a month and a half at the end of the 2012 season due to an oblique strain in his first year with the Rockies. It may have affected his plate coverage as he posted a meager .324 wOBA on inside pitches. This year, he has a .448 wOBA on inside pitches. Perhaps most surprising, his wOBA on outside pitches has risen from .308 to .401. Comparatively, he hit .403 on pitches over the middle of the plate in 2012 and .413 in 2013.
His ability to handle fastballs hasn't really changed: .377 wOBA this year, .365 last year. However, he has become much more adept at handling "soft" stuff: .352 wOBA last year, .465 this year. Though a majority of the "soft" stuff is thrown away, Cuddyer has been pulling them in front of the left fielder and to left-center. On "soft" stuff put in play, Cuddyer has a .475 average.
That signals a large degree of unsustainability. Although hitters, to a much larger degree than pitchers, have their own natural BABIP (consider: Mark Teixeira has a .250 BABIP since 2010; Austin Jackson .369), they can still deviate wildly from season to season. Cuddyer has a career .309 BABIP and is at .391 overall for 2013. He isn't hitting for any more power, as his .247 isolated power (ISO, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) this season is only modestly better than last year's .229. On "soft" stuff, 21 of 40 hits (52.5 percent) went for extra bases last year compared to 14 of 34 (41 percent) so far this year.
The vast outfield at Coors Field is known for allowing cheap hits, since outfielders have to play deeper than they would normally. Cuddyer has a .370 BABIP on soft stuff at home, which is a bit high but within the range of normalcy. That pales in comparison to his .563 road BABIP on soft stuff.
Conversely, on fastballs, Cuddyer has a .412 BABIP at home (with a majority of hits going to right field) and .240 on the road.
There is no rhyme or reason to Cuddyer having success on fastballs at home and success on breaking balls on the road. It is just one of the many wacky things that happen with baseball stats throughout every season. Though luck has played a big factor in his success this year, that doesn't mean Cuddyer hasn't had a fantastic season, nor does it mean he won't continue to do so. As it stands, he should be a very deserving starter for the National League -- or at least earn a spot on squad -- in the upcoming All-Star Game in New York.
Bill Baer writes about the Phillies at Crashburn Alley and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.